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Canada Ontario launches taxpayer-funded anti-carbon-tax ads, won’t reveal cost

The Ontario government has launched a taxpayer-funded advertising campaign decrying the federal carbon tax, the latest manoeuvre in an ongoing battle that includes a court challenge and mandatory stickers on gas pumps.

The 30-second spot, which debuted on Wednesday on radio and social media, features a female narrator who says the carbon tax will make life more expensive, including for home heating and driving children to school. Television and digital ads are expected to follow in mid-May.

Treasury Board president Peter Bethlenfalvy refused on Wednesday to say how much the ads will cost. During last year’s provincial election campaign, the Progressive Conservatives promised to spend $30-million over four years on measures to fight the federal government on carbon taxation, including a constitutional challenge, which is in Ontario’s court of appeal this week.

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“We’ve got a budget for letting the people of Ontario know exactly what is going on,” Mr. Bethlenfalvy said.

He called the advertisements “a public awareness campaign,” and pointed out that the federal Liberals are also promoting their climate-change rebate.

“The federal government is now mailing out postcards on their carbon tax, and we think it’s our duty to inform the people of Ontario about this job-killing carbon tax,” he said.

NDP MPP Taras Natyshak, who introduced a private member’s bill on Wednesday that would ban using public money for partisan advertising, called the ads “a blatant misuse of public dollars.”

He accused Premier Doug Ford of using taxpayer funds to campaign for federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer in the next federal election as well as to promote his own political ambitions.

“It doesn’t help the public learn about government initiatives, and it follows a narrative that is really propaganda and rhetoric-fuelled,” Mr. Natyshak said.

“It seems like the public purse is wide open when it comes to Doug Ford and his advertising campaign and his infatuation with stickers.”

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Mr. Natyshak’s bill would revive a PC private member’s bill from 2017 that would give the Auditor-General the power to veto taxpayer-funded partisan advertising, which was allowed under the previous, Liberal government.

Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk said she would have rejected the ad as partisan because it doesn’t have all the facts, it criticizes another government and aims to put this government in a more positive light.

Ontario’s auditor-general approves government ads before they go out, but Ms. Lysyk has said the Liberals reduced her office to a rubber stamp when they removed the discretion to veto ads as partisan.

The Progressive Conservatives frequently slammed the Liberals over government advertising they said was partisan and promised during the election campaign to restore the auditor-general’s powers.

But they now won’t commit to keeping that promise, only to look at it.

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said the Ontario government is engaging in “misleading advertising” by running spots that focus on the tax but do not mention the rebates Ottawa is providing to households.

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“We’ve been clear that it can no longer be free to pollute, but that 80 per cent of families will be better off though the rebates,” she said. “We’re all paying the price for climate change.”

Ms. McKenna also sent a letter to Conservative MPs from Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, saying she was aware they were sending information to constituents on the carbon tax without mentioning the rebates.

“If you deny them this information, you deny them access to money that is rightfully theirs,” the minister wrote in a letter her office released Wednesday.

Ontario’s budget bill introduced last week includes fines of up to $10,000 per day for gas station operators who don’t display mandatory stickers that say the rise in fuel prices is a result of the carbon tax.

The radio advertisement says the carbon tax will cost the average family $648 a year by 2022, figures echoed by the province’s financial accountability officer. However, the ads don’t mention the federal government’s carbon-tax rebates of up to $307 for families this year and rising to $718 by 2022.

The province insists the cumulative costs of the carbon tax will be much higher.

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“Ontario has a better way, holding the biggest polluters accountable, reducing trash and keeping our lakes clean,” the ad says. “A carbon tax isn’t the only way to fight climate change.”

With reports from The Canadian Press

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